7 thoughts on “The Ex-Big Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, Baron Aldgate

  1. Lord Sachs says that “we need a national story to give us identity and hope”. The unspoken sub-text is that we need a story that he approves of, possibly even one that he has helped to write. We are not exactly short of “national stories” these days, and currently one of the most widespread, and pernicious, is the story that we have always been a completely independent and autonomous nation, and that we can and should be again.

    This, of course, is fantastic nonsense. But it is peddled by unscrupulous people who know they can get away with it. The issue is not so much whether we need a different story, but why most of us are so gullible. It doesn’t help that most religions tell us that it is not only acceptable, but even virtuous, to believe things without evidence. I certainly don’t see what should persuade people to accept a “national story” crafted by the likes of Lord Sachs in preference to the one that has been fabricated by Nigel Farage.

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    1. So… when in Britain’s past history was it a subservient part of a federal European union of states (other than the Roman Empire) ? Asking for a friend.

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  2. Over many years I have listened to perhaps hundreds of TFTDs. This one is perhaps the most astonishing in its… well, I don’t really know what. Naivety? Wilful blindness? Stupidity? Danger?

    The current academic consensus on the story of the Exodus is that it was an invented narrative designed to create a sense of otherness and entitlement for the returning Hebrews, following the Babylonian Exile. So Sacks is correct about the importance of stories, but somewhat silent about whether those stories need to be true or not.

    He should be far less silent. Anti-Semitism in Europe was and is built on a set of stories that are entirely fabricated. Myths of the crimes of Jewish people, combined with myths about the superiority of the nation, are at the heart of pretty much all the upsurge in populism we are currently suffering. You are born to greatness, the people are told – if only those damn [insert name of target here] could be chased out, you would have that greatness.

    This is the exact formula used by the Nazis to whip the people up into anti-Semitism, and yet here we have Jonathan Sacks telling us that all we need is a national story and everything will be just fine. Well yes, assuming that the story is the one that benefits you. If it doesn’t, god help you.

    The reality is that THERE IS NO COHESIVE NATIONAL NARRATIVE. Understanding this is fundamentally important to a nation. The British Empire was awful, and yet sometimes not awful, carried out by gentlemen of high moral fibre, who were psychopaths and racists, who enslaved millions, and brought healthcare to millions, and so on and so on. The Second World War was fought by the brave and by the war criminals, against war criminals and the brave. The only time these things become contradictions is when you are trying to frame the whole lot in one single and simplistic narrative. It is the most insidious of all political ideas, one that of all people Jonathan Sacks should be most aware of the danger. Yet he suggests it is a good thing.

    The list of examples of the terror of simple national stories is long, and not difficult to make. But another is worth adding. If the Israelis and the Palestinians could BOTH drop their identity myths and see each other for what they are, there would be no problem. Because in fact, every Israeli and every Palestinian are nothing more than people trying to make a home in that part of the world. It is only the stories that sustain the violence, used time and time again by the extremists on both sides. This TFTD suggests to me that Sacks might be one of them.

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    1. Another insightful and thoughtful reply Steve. Thank you.

      As has been noted before, one key feature of ‘national stories’ / religion / propaganda / ‘cultural narratives’ is the division of the world into “us and them”. From there it’s a short step to “we’d be fine if only it weren’t for them*”; thence it’s just a short step to dehumanising “not us” and justifying persecutions and atrocities.

      Outsourcing blame doesn’t help either the target (obviously) or the originator (as they then fail to consider and address underlying causes and their own contribution to the problem)

      There are (sadly) far too many examples of this.

      Unfortunately, the next step is to turn inwards and start persecution of different subsets of “us” for not being sufficiently true to the interpretation “we” favour. This particularly happens when “them” are removed and the only unifying point about “us” is the perceived victim-hood. Again there are many examples – e.g. after the king was removed the French revolutionaries systematically set about killing each other; modern day Libya, Iraq… also now have warring factions who were oncle only united by hatred of Gadaffi / Saddam Hussein.

      We’re even seeing it playing out now in the huge unpleasantness of what Brexit means (apart from May’s simplistic recursive definition) and the disagreement between factions wanting no deal / continuity of trade / borders in Ireland…).

      At the risk of making a logically self-contradictory statement ** Simplistic narratives don’t work; isolationist, “blame all ills on others” may gain popular support but are even more destructive in the long term.

      *Classic Scooby Do

      **But at least I’m aware of it – and do declare it

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  3. Agree with above. I took from this,” We need to unite around a story whatever the evidence says, without paying too much attention to whether it we think it represents reality. ”

    As Steve says, quite staggering that someone speaking as a supposed representative of British Jews should think this an acceptable solution to anything.

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  4. Is it likely that stories would be an IMF’s preferred method for us to pass on knowledge & wisdom?
    Or does the use of stories signify that we humans are the authors of whatever we think IMFs would say if they existed? This would explain why IMFs’ communication skills are so poor and why IMFs are so interested in the unimportant details of our daily lives.

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  5. Roger, we are members not only of the EU, but of the UN and NATO, not to mention many other international organisations and conventions, in all of which we have voluntarily agreed to abide by rules and regulations that we have not necessarily drafted ourselves. For instance, NATO Article 5 commits us to come to the defence of any other member if they are attacked. I’m happy with that. Are you? If not, why not?

    If we pulled out of the EU on “WTO terms”, as so many Brexiteers say they want, we would have to abide by WTO rules, like it or not. There would be strict regulations on tariffs and other terms of trade, none of which we would have any say over. How can that be better than continuing to be members of the EU, where we could – and still can, if we choose – have a serious influence on its policies and practices? That is about as far removed from subservience as you can get in the real world.

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